That tradition, though, really isn’t around that much anymore. I have always wanted to have other people experience what I did when I was eight, nine, and ten. So for me, this is a labor of love. It has nothing to do with my work as a political commentator. It’s purely an expression of my own Jewish experience and the desire to see it shared by others.
Do you find that your Jewish background and upbringing affect your work as a political commentator?
Well, I’m very wary of people who draw lines from the Bible to political platforms, but clearly my worldview is shaped by my upbringing and awareness of Jewish culture, life, and history. You can see it, for example, when it comes to my writing about Israel. It’s very heavily influenced by the fact that I know it rather well and studied the history. If you had a Jewish upbringing like I did – I went to Hebrew Day School and was raised in a Modern Orthodox home – it will inevitably shape your life and perspective on the world.
The other impact it had is that I studied Talmud very intensively during my school years, and I think that kind of critical textual thinking, which is the essence of Talmudic study, has carried over into the way I look at and interpret events, documents, Supreme Court decisions – all the things I deal with as a commentator.
You once worked as a speechwriter for the liberal Walter Mondale. How did you go from that to becoming one of America’s most prominent conservative columnists?
I was young once. You know Churchill’s quote: If you’re not a socialist when you’re 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative when you’re 50, you have no head.
Was there a particular event or series of events that changed your political views?
Well, I’ve always been pretty hardheaded on foreign policy. So on foreign policy I didn’t change much; I’d say the Democratic Party did.
On domestic policy, I was a Great Society believer until the empirical evidence of the damage it did began to come in during the 1980s. As a former physician and having done some science, I am very open to empirical evidence. I don’t doubt the good intentions of Great Society liberalism, but I’m firmly convinced that the empirical evidence shows that this is the wrong way to go about helping people. That led to a transformation of my views.
Many conservatives have been wringing their hands since Governor Romney’s defeat on November 6. What is your take? Why did he lose?
A lot of reasons, but the main one, I think, is that he decided to run purely on economic conditions. It was a very good strategy in 2011, but the economy improved enough, or at least the perception is that it had improved enough, that it proved to be a losing bet.
Romney didn’t campaign very much on the difference in political philosophies. I think if you run on Obama’s left liberalism versus conservatism the way potential 2016 candidates Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, or Bobby Jindal might have run, conservatives win. The proof is the 2010 midterm elections, which were purely ideological [and in which Republicans performed well]. To the extent Republicans could have made 2012 like 2010, they would’ve won.
But Romney, for all his sincerity – and I think he’s a very good man and would’ve made a very good president – was simply not the best to make the conservative case. He spoke it like a second language, and that, I think, was a major problem. And then, at the very end when he had a scandal – Benghazi – which he could’ve really hit Obama hard with in the third debate, he just walked away from it. The press ignored it, Obama ignored it, and then Romney’s momentum was stopped by Hurricane Sandy, and that was it. He fell short.
So you don’t agree, then, with some conservatives who fear they have lost the country.
Not at all. In exit polls they asked people if government was doing too much or too little – which is a fairly good way to separate Left and Right. The “too much” won by eight points. That’s pretty significant.